As sadness over the sudden passing of Patrick O’Meara on March 30th spreads around the world, those of us who are part of his Indiana University family are still in shock. Patrick died at his home in Bloomington after an illness so brief that it left most of his friends without an opportunity to say goodbye.
And Patrick made friends wherever he went. Long before global engagement became one of the hallmarks of a leading university, he was building friendships and partnerships for IU throughout the world and ensuring that the university was a welcoming community to international students and scholars. An extraordinarily effective overseer of IU’s international activities, he was at the heart of IU’s work as it defined and sustained its role as a leader in global engagement. He served at the helm of campus internationalization for nearly 15 years as dean of international programs (1993-2007), guiding international services, study abroad, and overseas projects and partnerships through the tenures of four presidents and two chancellors and a period of marked growth in activity. As IU’s first vice president for international affairs (2007-2011), in 2008 he led the effort to create IU’s first international strategic plan, which helped move the university’s global activities into a higher gear and has since significantly raised IU’s profile nationally and internationally.
A skilled diplomat and a deft negotiator among foundation and university leaders, government officials, and corporate executives, Patrick forged agreements that funded IU’s research, scholarship, and creative activities and developed long-standing partnerships that continue to shape IU today. From testifying to the U.S. Congress to meetings with university leaders, he was a powerful advocate of the Title VI programs that provide the primary infrastructure supporting the nation’s and IU’s expertise and training in international and area studies. For nearly two decades he directed the “la Caixa” Graduate Fellowship Program in the United States, funded by the leading savings bank in Spain, whose orientation program introduced a generation of Spanish young people to the Bloomington campus and to American university life.
Many of IU’s most enduring accomplishments in international institution-building were executed under his management through the Center for International Education and Development Assistance, now the Office of International Development. One of many such fruits of Patrick’s careful tending is the founding of South East European University (SEEU) in Macedonia in 2001. Funded by USAID and carried out through vigorous faculty and staff exchanges, IU helped establish a university with high-quality academic programs based on international standards of pedagogy, curriculum, and administration. Since SEEU graduated its first class in 2005, the IU–SEEU relationship has continued, now as an active and collegial partnership.
Patrick’s impact lives on as well in the professionalism and personalized care that IU shows its international students and scholars, in the robust overseas study programming and generous financial aid that have made IU a national leader in participation numbers and accessibility, and in the generations of overseas alumni whose lives Patrick touched in innumerable ways and who pass on their enthusiasm for their IU education to their children. Patrick’s love of the visual arts, of opera, theatre, and cinema, of historic churches and religious sites all over the world, of convivial meals in fine restaurants, and of dressing in formal business attire—often balanced by colorful ties and socks—all these are legendary, but at the root of them was his love for people. He had a gift for person-to-person communication, showing his interest in and care for everyone from students and faculty, to people he met on his travels and his staff. A thoughtful and observant supervisor, he was as concerned about a senior staff member’s professional development as with the first-day-on-the-job experience of a young office assistant. Even after he retired, he never failed to show up at the annual ice cream social for newly arrived international students and their parents—and not only because he loved sweets. He delighted in learning their names, hometowns, and aspirations, sharing his deep knowledge of IU’s resources and hidden gems that he thought they might enjoy, and helping them feel welcome.
We join you in mourning the loss of Patrick. We would be glad to pass on to his loving family any sympathy cards mailed to us at the Office of the Vice President for International Affairs. Condolences and memories may also be posted here. Those wishing to give a gift in his name may contribute through the IU Foundation in support of the Patrick O'Meara Global Engagement Scholarship, which provides scholarships for international undergraduate students interested in global engagement.
Hannah L. Buxbaum